Missouri offense prepares for season amid changes

Kelly Bryant has gained familiarity with his targets as the season creeps closer.
Missouri wide receivers watch as quarterback Kelly Bryant lofts a pass during practice on Friday, Aug. 9 on Faurot Field. The Tigers play at Wyoming on Aug. 31. Madeline Carter

Despite having never played a down of regular season game action with his current receivers, Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant had high praise for the group after a week of training camp.

“He’s a freakish athlete,” Bryant said of sophomore Kam Scott. “He’s just one of those guys, you don’t expect him to make as many plays because he’s not a big guy but you look on the film and look out there and he’s making plays all over the place.”

“He’s good,” Bryant added about senior Johnathon Johnson. “Veteran guy. He’s a smart player. Very knowledgeable of the game.”

Bryant also praised Jalen Knox, saying the sophomore’s “a guy that’s gonna be really special,” and commented on already having chemistry with fellow graduate transfer Jonathan Nance.

The apparent respect between the quarterback and his wideouts is an encouraging sign for the Missouri offense, a unit that looks to remain competitive in a crowded Southeastern Conference. Along with graduate transfer Bryant stepping in under center to replace Drew Lock, Missouri saw turnovers at receiver and running back after losing Emanuel Hall and Damarea Crockett to the NFL as well. Despite the changes, offensive coordinator Derek Dooley plans to run the same system as he did in 2018.

“Certainly we’re gonna try to build it around what [Bryant] does best,” Dooley said. “The advantage [Bryant] brings is we think he can throw it equally well as he can run it... We’re still running the same offense we ran last year, everybody thinks we’re putting in some new offense. We’re not.”

No more Crockett means sophomore Tyler Badie and junior Larry Rountree III will split time at running back with sophomore Simi Bakare likely to see action as well. Badie and Rountree combined for 1653 rushing yards in 2018.

“We know [Rountree] can play,” Dooley said. “We know [Badie] can play, but it’s hard to go through a year with just two guys. It really is. So it’s ‘who’s the next guy that’s going to be able to help us contribute?’ [Bakare], obviously, he’s a year into the system, but he’s still young.”

Another piece of the offense remaining constant from last year is the tight end. Redshirt junior Albert Okwuegbunam enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign in 2018, posting 43 receptions for 466 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing four games with a shoulder injury, leading to speculation that he would join Crockett in leaving school early for the NFL draft. On January 10, he announced that he would remain at Missouri for his redshirt junior year. He wasn’t shy about his ambitions for 2019.

“Of course I want to be the best tight end in the nation,” he said. “Anything less than that would be a disappointment to me.”

The offensive line brings back three starters from 2018: seniors Yasir Durant and Tre’Vour Wallace-Sims and junior Trystan Colon-Castillo. The trio will be joined by sophomore Hyrin White and either Larry Borom or Case Cook tasked with keeping Bryant upright.

“[Cook] has been doing such a great job,” coach Barry Odom said.

Cook and the rest of the Missouri offense will begin its season August 31 against Wyoming.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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